O Captain!

The Adventurers Life

Coaster IIIt’s no secret that the sea transfixes me. When I decided to incorporate a new segment into my blog where I interview people with jobs that embody adventure, I knew landing an interview with a ship captain* named Niko Economides naturally had to be my first post. *(Niko insisted he shouldn’t be called a ship captain, just a captain, as those who were captains of ships were equivalent to surgeons in their training, but as far as I could tell, he was as much of a ship captain as I’d ever seen).

The Ship Captain

Niko invited me out onto his fine vessel for the interview. I am not even going to pretend I was cool and collected about it. I was basically salivating as I sat on a ledge in the harbor waiting for Niko to get back from a sail and once he did and spotted me, he hollered for me to climb aboard. I scrambled to get on his ship that looked like it deserved a role in a real-life Peter Pan movie.

Niko was still busy talking to those who just went out on the sail with him, as his boat is used for that exact reason: ventures near and far into Superior. Niko paused to tell me to have a look around the boat. Immediately I pulled out my camera and began investigating every knot, rope and clasp in breathless awe. I don’t know where this complete adherence to all things that touch the sea came from, but it’s been with me as long as I can recall. I cannot help but quip that I must’ve been a mermaid in another life for I yearn for the sea as if it were mine to begin with. As if I’ve merely been plucked from it so am therefore always working my way back somehow. Back to the sea, back from whence I came.

After touring the boat while my heart thrummed with its devotion to being on this ship—the Coaster II—I sat down near the wooden steering wheel and compass, to wait for Niko. When he made his way over, he summoned the two young chaps that were his crew to come have a look at my ship tattoo. This must’ve convinced everyone aboard that perhaps I belonged there. Then Niko told me we were going to go on a quick sail to do a pump out. I had no idea what this entailed, but the mere mention of moving out into open waters had me so twitterpated that I forgot to ask what exactly a pump out was.

I held my legs down to stop them from jumping and running around in unrestrained delight. My ship tattoo may have convinced these men that I was legit, but running around squealing over the prospect of setting sail would have been most uncouth.

When we set sail, Niko looked over and said I could start asking questions. I pulled out my notebook and began. Niko told me about how he’d been sailing for a long, long time; about how he did wilderness guiding, backpacking trips and built boats for a living before his sons (one of which was among us on the crew—21-year old Thanos who looked like he’d been born at sea) had expressed interest in a family business involving a large boat such as the one we were on. So Niko and his family began to look into purchasing such a ship.

Niko maintained that they needed a fixer upper and after finding the Coaster II, he and his son sailed it back from Maine where the Economides family then spent two years restoring the ship.

While Niko sailed and spoke, I noted that he, like his son, looked as if he were born at sea too. His full beard, sheath at his hip and natural ease while steering the ship bespoke of someone with the confident air of a true sailor.

When I asked Niko about different trips people could take aboard his ship, he rattled off a list of islands in Lake Superior and various day trips ranging from 2-8 hour sails. When he mentioned Granite Island and I asked where that was, he responded,

“About 14 miles due North.”

I asked what exactly due North meant, but loved hearing it intensely as it was clearly sea speak.

“Like to Canada,” he responded.

Once on the subject of direction, Niko began talk of navigation and ancient sea kings telling me that riddles were used for sailors to remember where the stars would rise if they were at different places in the world at different times.

“The sun’s important,” he noted, “but the stars will tell you more.”

He asked me my astrological sign and I told him Gemini. Niko informed me that Gemini was the sign of the navigator and I sat rapt, thinking, it all makes sense now. I am a navigator. It’s in the stars. Then he told me it really is in the stars, telling me about the twins, which represent Gemini.

According to mythencyclopedia.com in Greek and Roman Mythology Castor and Pollux were twin brothers. When Castor died, Pollux asked Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his twin to keep them together and they were transformed into the constellation Gemini. The pair were regarded as the patrons of sailors and were also associated with horsemanship (fancy that—horses—only my other favorite thing in life). Earthsky.org said that “in China they were associated with Yin and Yang, the contrasts and complements of life.”

Niko told me that Marquette was built upon its shipping history: schooners, sailing vessels, birchbark canoes.

“There was more happening here before there were any roads,” he said. “I’m not a big fan of roads.”

When I asked Thanos who moved gracefully and fluidly about the ship to tell me about his greatest adventure to date involving the ship, he spoke reverently about his time sailing back from Maine where the ship was purchased: traveling 26 hours down from Portland, sailing down the East Coast, cruising up the East River, then the Hudson, followed by the Eerie Canal. Once in Detroit, the rest of the Economides clan joined the boys and they sailed the Great Lakes home.

Thanos

He told me that his family buying this boat was life changing.

“I was either going to be a rock star or a cook,” he told me before settling in at 14 years old that a life aboard a ship would be much more meaningful.

“Right after we left New York I awakened and became more alive… [I] embraced this future,” Thanos said.

As we sailed back into the harbor, I noted that the air smelled exactly like the sea, fishy and crisp. And while the day had been bordering on scorching until now, suddenly I felt the wind change, cooling off my cheeks that were warm from excitement.

All my life I had been yearning to sail, especially on a boat such as this, one that bespoke of history and resilience, magnitude and adventure. And alas, the stars had aligned in my favor when Niko walked into my work one day (who I was then introduced to by a coworker who I’d confided in that I was looking to interview men of the sea).

But hey, I am not the only one who could experience such a thing. The Coaster II is available for sails nearly every day of the week. And Captain Niko surely will not disappoint as even going on a brief stint around the harbor while he regaled me with his knowledge both of boats and seafarers alike was a trip worth taking.

If you’re anything like me, you will take to the sea and understand there’s something worth fulfilling in your soul out there.

“The sea pronounces something, over and over in a hoarse whisper; I cannot make it out. But God knows I’ve tried.”
-Annie Dillard

There’s Nothing Dismal About It

Musings

I was desperate for adventure today. I had two things in mind:

-Get real up close and personal with the mountains. Duh, that’s almost always a prerequisite.
-And go somewhere with a cool name where I’ve never been. That’s almost always a prereq as well, come to think of it.

I went into my old office, which now doubles as my sisters room and inspected my map of Virginia that is tacked to the wall and has pink heart pins in all the locales I have visited thus far. I knew I had close to a full tank of gas, $2 in my checking, $10.30 in my savings, and two folded ones in my purse. The money was a non-issue, as I can make adventure out of nothing. The tank of gas was my jackpot. I made sure to fill my stomach with a small potato, one egg and an individual honey Greek yogurt with some walnuts before I left, so as not to be tempted to eat on the road.

Who knew what I might need $14 dollars for and it probably would be better than food.

I wanted to go to Lake Moomaw, VA, because come on. Lake Moomaw. That’s fantastic. But it was four hours away, which meant eight hours total and that seemed to be pushing it for time and gas. I reluctantly let go of the Moomaw fantasy and left the house with no clear idea but headed West toward the mountains. I detoured to buy myself a mint chocolate chip cupcake as I happened to be passing my favorite cupcake place and what’s an adventure without a cupcake and coffee? Besides I needed the sustenance for researching my adventure. As I sat happily munching and sipping, I scoured a VA map again for another contender. And that’s when I spotted, Woodstock.

I was sold immediately but researched further to make sure Woodstock wasn’t just some unincorporated community I would drive through, but actually had a Main street or town hall. It had both. I grabbed my coffee, got back into my trusty steed, put on The Avett Brothers and was off.

I passed a sign that said, Dismal Hollow Rd. and got to thinking how I ended up in Virginia. My first encounter with VA was on a road trip to Myrtle Beach with my girlfriends in college and we stopped in Fancy Gap, VA for the night. We stayed in a terrifying motel with a door that opened to an unlit hallway and all the TV channels were Indian soap operas. We ate fried chicken in a local diner up in the hills and I bought a bag that said, Virginia is for Lovers. We laughed about Fancy Gap for years and that’s all I associated with Virginia, a creepy motel, fried chicken and that it was for lovers, which did endear it to me somehow.

The next time I made my way to Virginia was on a field trip with family friends who were teaching their children about America’s history. We went to the Jamestown and Yorktown settlements. I enjoyed myself and loved driving through the mountains, but I remember thinking, who would ever live in Virginia? It seemed to me at the time that all it amounted to was Fancy Gap, some Colonial re-enactors and a lot of strip malls.

Four years later and I was packing up my things in my boyfriend’s car to move in with him. To Virginia. I didn’t know what to think other than I loved him, so I might learn to love Virginia. I couldn’t find my Virginia is for Lovers bag and that saddened me.

That was over a year ago. As I passed Dismal Hollow, I wondered about who thought this place was dismal enough to name it so? And maybe they were just passing through and didn’t give it a fair shake. I at one time felt certain Virginia wasn’t worth a look-back and now I am happier than ever that I got the chance to be proven wrong. The Mountains. The Sea. The horses. The history. What could possibly be dismal about this place? Well, okay the traffic. The traffic could warrant a dismal.

I drove on to Woodstock and tried on crowns in Three French Hens. I walked up and down Main street where the parking meter lady smiled and nodded each time she passed. I delighted in Walton & Smoot’s old fashioned Pharmacy complete with soda counter. I found pictures of the sea and New Orleans in the local thrift shop, which touted a half off everything sale. I waved to the men in the barbershop who waved at me. I drove up into the mountains and George Washington National Forest and I drove back down spotting the valley below. I drove across the Shenandoah where a suspension bridge dangled above the river and grape vines lined the hill. I got directions from a kindly woman who said, “warsh tub road” instead of wash and I did feel like I was in the old hollow.

I left Woodstock with my thrift store pictures, a 15 cent postcard and a free decal that said, “Discover Woodstock Virginia” for a total spent of $4.33.

And I could not have been more thrilled. Virginia and all its hollows and hills, mountains and vineyards and even lovers delights me so. I came home to a setting sun in my rear-view mirror, my apartment that faces the mountains and put on John Denver.